Sunday, July 22, 2018

Francesco Molinari wins Open by two with a 
closing 69 at Carnoustie

Francesco Molinari has become the first Italian to win a major, holding off a pack of star names to claim The Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Twenty-three years after compatriot Costantino Rocca lost a four-hole 1995 Open play-off to John Daly at St Andrews, Molinari produced a faultless final round of 69 in windy conditions on the Scottish links to finish eight under at 276
He finished two ahead of four players, including home favourites Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, tied on six under 278.
Tiger Woods finished five under after leading midway through the round, with Jordan Spieth on four under.
Molinari, 35, emerged from a six-way tie for the lead, when all the players were either on the back nine or in the clubhouse, to lift the Claret Jug.
The Europe Ryder Cup player started the final day three shots adrift of overnight leaders Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, but maintained composure while his rivals all dropped shots in a thrilling battle for the lead.
"It is absolutely amazing," Molinari said. "I think it will take a long time to sink in. It has been a great week.
"The course bit me a few times in the first two days, but to go bogey-free around this track at the weekend is incredible."
Molinari, ranked 15th in the world, had been tipped by a number of experts before the tournament as a player to watch at Carnoustie - and he proved them right with an assured display over the four days.
Despite a modest Open record, he had been backed on the strength of a fine few months that saw him claim the PGA Championship at Wentworth - his biggest win on the European Tour - and his maiden US PGA Tour victory at the Quicken Loans Classic.
Steady opening rounds of 70 and 72 at Carnoustie took him into the weekend, before a stunning 65 on Saturday propelled him into contention.
Molinari stressed the importance of making pars on Sunday in an interview after his third round, and he fulfilled his target by beginning with 13 pars in succession in testing conditions.
That steady sequence was ended with a birdie on the par-five 14th, before a glorious approach on the 18th allowed him to pick up another shot.
After finishing his round, Molinari looked anxious as he waited in the scorer's cabin, watching nearest remaining challenger Schauffele bogey the 17th.
The 24-year-old American needed to eagle the last hole to force a play-off, but his approach landed short, allowing Molinari to celebrate with his caddie and wife.
Ranked 650th at the start of the year, Tiger Woods has answered that positively with his lowest 72-hole total at a major since the 2012 Open.
Woods' surge was accompanied by fervent support on the Angus links, with a buzz of excitement following the 42-year-old around the course and on social media. His challenge helped attract a record crowd of 172,000 attend over the week.
Two birdies on the front nine on Sunday, coupled with dropped shots for Spieth and Schauffele, helped him take the outright lead of a major for the first time since his peak years.
But a double bogey at the 11th derailed his bid for a first major since the 2008 US Open and, although a birdie on the 14th briefly reignited his hopes, he had to settle for a share of sixth place after signing for a level-par 71.
England's Rose and Northern Ireland's McIlroy were rated as the leading home hopes going into the 147th Championship and still had outside chances when they stepped onto the first tee on Sunday.
Rose only just made the cut by sinking a birdie on the 18th in Friday's second round, but a career-best round at a major of 64 on Saturday gave him hope of a first Open title.
Meanwhile, McIlroy started the day a shot better off at five under as he aimed to claim his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship.
Both players appeared to have lost their chances of threatening the top of the leaderboard until they each made an eagle at the par-five 14th - Carnoustie's easiest hole - to move back into the reckoning.
Rose also birdied the last to finish on six under, a score that was matched by McIlroy shortly afterwards with pars on the final four holes.
A play-off looked their best hope of an unlikely success - until Molinari also took advantage of the 14th to take control.
Another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood, moved to six under with a birdie on the first, only to drop four shots in three holes before the turn and end up three under for the tournament with a two-over 73.

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